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Crystal Clear: The Struggle for Reliable Communications Technology in World War II

ISBN: 978-1-118-10464-4
240 pages
October 2011, Wiley-IEEE Press
Crystal Clear: The Struggle for Reliable Communications Technology in World War II (1118104641) cover image
Quartz crystal-a technology that changed the tide of World War II

Some of the defining leaps in technology in the twentieth century occurred during the Second World War, from radar to nuclear energy. Often left out of historical discussions are quartz crystals, which proved to be just as pivotal to the Allied victory-and to post-war development-as other technologies. Quartz crystals provided the U.S. military, for the first time, with reliable communication on the front lines, and then went on to become the core of some of the most basic devices of the post-war era, from watches, clocks, and color televisions, to cell phones and computers.

In Crystal Clear, Richard Thompson relates the story of the quartz crystal in World War II, from its early days as a curiosity for amateur radio enthusiasts, to its use by the United States Armed Forces. It follows the intrepid group of scientists and engineers from the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army as they raced to create an effective quartz crystal unit. They had to find a reliable supply of radio-quality quartz; devise methods to reach, mine, and transport the quartz; find a way to manufacture quartz crystal oscillators rapidly; and then solve the puzzling "aging problem" that plagued the early units. Ultimately, the development of quartz oscillators became the second largest scientific undertaking in World War II after the Manhattan Project.

Bringing to light a little-known aspect of World War II, Crystal Clear offers a glimpse inside one of the most significant efforts in the annals of engineering.

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Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: "We Were Heavily Armed and We Had Crystals" 1

1 From Wire to Wireless: The Development—and Acceptance—of Tactical Radio 5

2 Crystal Control—the Great Gamble 17

3 The Signal Corps Lays the Foundation 31

4 Nothing Else to Do but Grind Crystals 55

5 Riding the "Flat Wheel Limited"—Overseeing a Mass Production Industry 69

6 Supplying a Mass Production Industry—the Civilian Government Steps In 93

7 "The Whole Radio Crystal Program of the Armed Services Depends Upon the Success of the Procurement Program in Brazil. Nothing Must Be Allowed to Interfere With It" 117

8 "God Made Lots of Small Crystals" 129

9 The Aging Crisis—Stopgap Measures 145

10 The Aging Crisis—Physics to the Rescue! 153

11 "Without Crystals You Have Radio; With Them, Communications" 163

Appendix 1: Crystal-Controlled Equipment 175

Appendix 2: Crystal Manufacturers 179

References 183

Index 219

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RICHARD J. THOMPSON, Jr., is the Dean of Mathematics and Science at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. He received a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics from The Pennsylvania State University in 1994 and has served as a physics professor and department chairman at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.
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